Massachusetts Oral History Project on the Great Depression 
Kathleen A. Lewis, Saint Clare Central High School, Roslindale, Massachusetts 


Name of the Project: Massachusetts Oral History Project on the Great Depression 

Grade Level: 11 

History Frameworks Learning Standard Addressed: Historical understanding. Students will understand the meaning, implications, and import of historical events, while recognizing the contingency and unpredictability of history - how events could have taken other directions - by studying past ideas as they were thought, and past events as they were lived, by people in their own time. 

Local School Curriculum Objectives: Students will examine how individuals in Massachusetts reacted to and dealt with the Great Depression. Joblessness, poverty, relief and family life will be examined. 

Enabling Activities

1. Students will conduct some research using the internet. The site contains manuscripts from the Federal Writers Project, which was a part of the WPA. The topic is American Life from 1936-1940 and it consists of 139 oral histories of people who are from Massachusetts. 

An online newsletter for the Great Depression: 

This site contains wage tables comparing prices during the Great Depression to prices today:,1607,7-160-15481_19268_20778-52530--,00.html 

The New Deal Network is and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York may be contacted at the following email address:

Using the internet, the class can enter a forum and post a folder inviting senior citizens to respond and share their Depression experiences. Some online services have senior citizen forums already established. 


2. Students will conduct interviews with a relative or a trusted family friend who lived in Massachusetts during the Depression. They will work in teams of 2 or 3. The size of the team will equal the number of interviews that they will conduct. The students will use a questionnaire developed collectively in class under the direction of the teacher. It should consist of approximately 15 questions. Some possible questions might be: How did the government effect your life during the Depression? 

How well do you remember the Depression? Can you share some of your experiences with me? Were you changed in any way as a result of the Depression? How much education did you receive? Were you forced to leave school earlier than you would have wanted? Did the Depression force you to choose a different year to get married? What type of house or apartment did you live in during the Depression? How many relatives lived with you in your house or apartment? What were some of your favorite movies ( songs or sporting events)? What influence did Hollywood have upon clothing styles (or hair styles)? 

The interview will be conducted on either an audio cassette or video tape. Before students begin the interview process you may wish to require permission slips be filled out by their legal guardians. Prior to the students conducting the interview, they should determine their roles. In a team of 2, one will ask the questions and one will operate the recording equipment. When the team conducts their second interview, they should exchange roles. 


Products or Performances: 1. Students will be required to turn in typed manuscripts of their interviews. The manuscript will have a cover sheet indicating the name of the person being interviewed, their birthdate and occupation. 2. Students will also turn in a copy of the taped interview. 3. When possible, students should collect memorabilia from the time period. 4. Students will write individual essays that will demonstrate an understanding of what it meant to live during the Depression and to show how the lives of the individuals who were interviewed were affected by living through the Great Depression. 

Criteria for Assessment Based on Standards

A - all work passed in on time; manuscript neatly typed; the essay should be well organized and demonstrate an understanding of the implications that the Depression had upon the life of the person interviewed and demonstrate an understanding of the implications of the Depression upon history; quality of spelling and grammar is important. Any memorabilia should be neatly arranged and organized. 

B - all work should be passed in on time; manuscript neatly typed; the essay should show that the student understands what the Depression was and how it effected people's lifestyles and limited their choices as they determined their direction and goals. There should be very few spelling or grammatical errors. 

C - all work should be passed in on time; manuscript should be complete; the essay does not clearly show the cause and effect relationship between the Depression and its effects on the life of the person interviewed; basic understanding of the Depression required. Misspellings and grammatical mistakes will be counted. 

D - work not passed in on time; transcript incomplete or sloppy; essay does not accurately describe how people's lives were drastically changed by the Depression; does not demonstrate a link between the past and how it effects current times. Spelling or grammatical errors will be counted. 

F - student fails to pass in work. 


Scoring Guide for Selected Basic skills and Personal Qualities 

The total points for this scoring guide is 100. Each of the following five skills are worth a maximum of 20 points: 

Reading - locates, understands and interprets information. 

Listening - receives, interprets and responds to verbal messages and other cues. 

Speaking - organizes ideas and communicates orally. 

Responsibility - exerts a high level of effort and perseveres towards goal attainment. 

Self-Management - assesses self accurately, sets goals, monitors progress and exhibits self-control. 


Culminating Activity: Project is displayed in school and the public is invited to attend. Interviewed participants in the project are especially encouraged to come. The manuscripts are displayed along with memorabilia. Discussion and interaction is encouraged during the day. 

I would like to acknowledge Ron Adams, Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy, for providing a model for this type of lesson plan.

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